Friday, January 29, 2010

Shooting in the Dark

When it's dark you can always focus on the brighter things. I'm a night person, always have been. The best part of being one is that you get a lot of time to yourself. I like it. On my travels I seem to find myself wandering around in the later hours. Watching how the world settles in and take in the night reveals a lot about the people and the place. It could be a big canopy of stars overhead, fires coming from camps in a valley, a group of Kazakhs singing songs around a bonfire, or an old couple in their pajamas sitting outside their storefront on rickety plastic chairs. I've always wanted to capture it, but it's just about the hardest thing. Takes discipline, patience, equipment, and luck. You most definitely need a tripod and a good set up. Somethings of which never seems to suit me. I'm not a shooter that has a lot of gear. Most of my stuff is basic. Short of buying very expensive infrared film and paying for my cameras to be repaired. I've never been a person that's had the best gear. I've always prided myself in being the underdog.That basically describes me, my gear, and how I struggle to get that shot with a presence. This can be very apparent in my many attempts at getting shots when it's dark. I can't recall how many rolls of film I wasted trying to or how I came to realized that the "Night Shot" option on a digital camera was down right creepy looking. Everything looks green and people have soulless black pupils. A fan of the night I like the sense of the warm glow from a light bulb scattering about. Colors seem different and shadows fade into each other. You can always take a light into darkness and brighten the environment, but you can never take the darkness into the light. These shots here are some of the few that I feel came out well. Many differently places but all with the same hauntingly beautiful imagery. Be it Hanoi's old city district, a ger's roof top glow, bright colorful lanterns, a Japanese alley, a child trying to spook me, a couple dressed up for a New Year's ball, or ghostly light pillars for remembering the Twin Towers. Like I said, these are some of the most difficult things for me to capture, but when it works it was well worth it.

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Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Hustai Valley Steppes

Hustai Valley Steppes, originally uploaded by linhvienthai.
Hustai Valley, Mongolia; September 2001: The time just before dusk is some of the most amazing 20 minutes of light.  This was a cold day in Hustai Valley, Mongolia; and the winds came in strong from the North. When winter encroaches here, it literally roars in with powerful howling gusts. It's bright, it's cold, and hardly anyone come here this time of year. This valley and just over the hills mark the edge of Siberian taiga forests. From here it's flat grasslands and arid stretches of vast open land. I was riding through on horseback amid  bright drab of grasses and rocky ground. Looking up at a ridge line I noticed a shiny glint coming from a small dark green dot. It was a typical UAZ 469 Russian jeep, the ones commonly found in Central Asia; it was sitting idle with a few people running about.  They were atop a very high hill. I could see them hastily arranging equipment. Upon riding closer for further inspection, I heard them calling and they waved me towards them. It was all in Russian and there was a writer and the other a photographer. Their Mongolian driver/guide was also with there, he was frantically readying their equipment. When I arrived and dismounted they excitedly greeted me. Patting me on my shoulder and pointing wildly, they directed me to look back towards where I came from. Then I saw this. The streaks of light and long stretched shadows from both the terrain and clouds were magnificent. The sky was brilliant. The weathered looking Russian man nodded and smiled then lifted up his camera. I then joined them. With this window of time brief, we panned for the right scene, focused or cameras, looked, felt, and shot. It's one of those times in life you don't ever forget. None of us could understand each other but we all expressed with the universal thumbs up, laughter, and a bone crunching Russian's handshake. As it got too dark to shoot, their Mongolian guide brought out a bottle of vodka and a large plastic bag. In it was a very gracious portion of smokey meat. I believed it was marmot a delicacy here. Offered to me I grabbed  bit of meat, ate it, chased it with a swig of vodka. Then consumed a hit of sharp tasting albeit very dry cheese. This was repeated one or too many times for me to recall. We were carrying on conversation in our very loud native languages. None of us could understand a word we were saying, but it was all good. Later, I rode back to my camp in the dark, cold but very happy, and slightly buzzed.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Snowy Day in Kawasaki, Japan

Nihon Minka En; Kawasaki City, Japan: This is an open air museum which is nestled in a small wooded valley not too far from Tokyo. It's full of rustic houses that represent different eras and places from throughout Japan. Each building was relocated in order to preserve a rich part of Japanese architectural history. I especially like this place as it's beautiful, peaceful, and not crowded by tourists and visitors. On many occasions I had this place completely to myself. This day in particular was a very snowy day in Tokyo. Although many parts of Japan get very cold and snowy in winter. The area around Tokyo does not. Most of winter is very dry and chilly and when it snows, it's usually a mere dusting. On this morning when I woke up I was inspired by the winter scape and grabbed my cameras to go outside for some shooting. I had a good feeling to head here and was greeted by staff who were surprised that someone showed up. For only 500 Yen they let me in and I wandered throughout the garden of homes. The light winds muffled the crackling tinsel like sound of snow falling. The old houses creaked in the cold. I came to a section where A-framed shaped houses from a Japanese mountain village were on display. I took a panoramic shot and captured this very hauntingly beautiful image. Soon after I went into one of these houses where a mom and pop restaurant was serving some of the best hand made soba noodles and soup I've ever tasted. It was a great day.
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Sunday, January 24, 2010

Eagle Returns to his Master: Kazakh Eagle Hunter demonstrates his mastery

Bayan Olgi, Mongolia October 2004: Photo of Kazakh Eagle Hunter just as the eagle lands back onto his hand whilst in full gallop. From high above the eagle swoops down towards the dust and to his mounted master. Landing onto a gloved perch they both slow to trot. A surreal scene; man, eagle, horse, all working together. I ran alongside the rider as the eagle flew down from a rocky cliff above in order to get this photo. To reach here we had to fly a small propeller plane from Ulaan Baatar to Bayan Olgi. Then took 4x4 jeeps and camped in gers/yurts nearby until the hunters gathered for the event. The landscape here is rocky and barren. It's windy, cold, and dusty. I recall at the time MIAT the domestic carrier left all our gear and luggage behind. For a week I had no shower and change of clothes. With very little batteries for my cameras and every shot moving or still had to count. It was perfect.

Montagnard Boy

Central Highlands, Vietnam
I shot this photo in 2006 during my journey from Dalat to Nha Trang. This boy was with a group of kids tending to water buffaloes along a river bank near the unpaved road. This area is just at the edge of the mountains as the road heads towards the sea. This hamlet is one of the outer lying Montagnard villages. Montagnards are the indigenous people of Vietnam. Most are found living deep inland in mountains that border Cambodia, Laos, and China. There are hundreds of different tribes each with their own unique language and culture. They live in long huts which are stilted and Montagnard women can be seen walking on roads and trails wearing a large basket like backpack. During the Vietnam War these people fought alongside U.S. Special Forces and were known for their fearlessness in combat and deep knowledge of the local terrain.

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